Southern Arkansas University sponsored the first annual Mid-South Undergraduate Research Conference in October. Seven universities and almost as many states participated in the two-day event that included workshops and an opportunity for undergraduates to present the results of months of research.
The first annual conference dedicated to research was the brain child of Vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. Trey Berry, who at the time was the dean of the College of Liberal and Performing Arts. Dr.
Linda Tucker, of the Department of English was intrigued by the idea.
“She took the idea and ran with it,” said Berry. “Dr. Tucker organized an interdisciplinary committee of faculty members and they began to work on the concept, recruit and publicize the conference and organize every detail.”
Berry credits Tucker and the committee, which included Dr. Sara Day, Dr. Shawn Krosnick, Shannin Schroeder, Tim Schroeder, Paul Babbitt, Brittney Schrick and Juping Wang, for taking the reins and making the Oct. 12 conference happen. The faculty committee also chose the posters and papers presented. According to Day, the faculty hosted pre-conference events where students could attend round-table discussions about graduate school.
Dr. Kim Bloss, Dr. Misty LaCour, James Reppert, Dr. Charles Keller, Dr. James Ulmer, Dr. Elizabeth Davis and Dr. Pablo Bacon also devoted a tremendous amount of time and help with the conference.
The faculty was very enthusiastic about the concept, according to Berry.
“They saw a need for such an event that would highlight such student research and encourage more participation in scholarly endeavors,” he said. “It also encourages joint scholarly work between faculty and students. At SAU we are trying to create more experiential learning opportunities for our students and faculty. The Mid-South Undergraduate Research Conference is a great example of what can be done by and for students beyond the classroom.
Since the Mid-South consists of Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, invitations to submit papers, posters, projects and presentations went out to universities in those states.
A total of 35 student presenters from four states – Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana – came to the Magnolia campus for the two-day event that included Friday workshops and Saturday presentation schedules.
These motivated SAU students represented the four SAU colleges, as follows:
Sciences: Subir Shakya, Samson King
Math: Jonathon Loftin, Kara O’Neal and Jessica Zigler
Humanities: Nimendra Mawalagedara, James Schlag, Majesta Miles, Megan Kelley
Education: Jeanette Rodriguez, Charity Jones
Several students took time to talk about their projects and their experience at the first annual conference.
Subir Bahadur Shakya, who received an honorable mention for his poster on karyotyping procedures, said he spent a “good deal of time on the project.”
The purpose to Shakya’s and King’s project, with the help of Dr. Krosnick, was to identify and arrange the various chromosomes. According to Shakya, it involved two methods: one using a vile of blood and the other using just a few drops of blood. Both were treated to various chemicals and then mounted on a slide to get a few spreads on the slide.
“The hardest part was counting all of the spreads in a slide which sometimes could amount to 200 in a single slide,” he said.
Shakya said the conference experience was a positive one.
“The overall outcome of the conference was a great experience gained. I met several interested and enthusiastic people who had no idea we did this sort of thing in the university. This procedure has been incorporated in the genetics lab course,” he said. “I also learned about the various works being done in other universities and their implications. This should be a plus point in applying for grad school.”
“He proposed that children learned through experiencing disequilibrium in their thinking,” the education major said. “Through accommodation and assimilation, children moved through four distinct cognitive developmental stages: Sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational.”
She prepped by going over possible questions people would have about her work.
“It took me several hours to put together the physical presentation,” she said. “The mental aspect took the longest.”
Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity when Dr. LaCour approached her about it.
“We receive constant support from everyone in our department,” said Rodriguez. “They are happy to let their students present or to be a part of something like this. It is a reflection of themselves as educators, and they want us to have the experience of presenting to other people. After all, it will be a huge part of our job as educators.”
Charity Jones presented with her team a project on Bloom’s taxonomy, which is related to skills in the cognitive domain that include knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking of a particular topic, Jones explained.
In her presentation, Jones shared research on the six levels in taxonomy, which include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
According to Jones, it took her two weeks to prepare her presentation for the conference.
“I learned that not a lot of people have heard of Bloom’s taxonomy and that the Socratic method used in law school and Bloom’s taxonomy are very similar.”
Dr. LaCour provided support and guidance through the new experience. Jones said the experience would help her tremendously in her teaching career.
For Kara O’Neal, learning the unexpected twists in a presentation were valuable and help to prepare her for presenting her joint project at the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) in Boston in November.
“People asked me all kinds of questions about my topic that weren’t necessarily on my presentation board, and I was happy to answer them,” she said. “It was great practice for me. It is so important to know inside and out everything you are teaching.”
O’Neal worked in conjunction with Jessica Zigler and Darrell Gray, as well as Dr. Ed Kardas and Dr. Deborah Wilson, as part of a statistics honors contract course.
“This was the first time that a contract course for this particular class had been done. We met with Dr. Wilson and input data,” said O’Neal. “Our presentation was about our experiences and what we gained from doing the project. It also helped us formulate suggestions for future statistics honors contract courses.”
O’Neal said that part of becoming an effective educator is more than memorizing information in order to pass a test, and this conference was valuable in helping her excel in that role.
“This is information that needs to sink in and it really needs to mean something to you. It’s our job to be intellectual sponges – to take in more information than is required of us, then conveying it to students in a relatable, applicable way.”
O’Neal said the best part of this opportunity was seeing others share their research and to interact with students from other universities.
“It sparked my interest in research,” she said. “The conference was beneficial and made me want to look for more opportunities in research.”